Was Heidegger a Child of the Scottish Enlightenment?

Do Hume and Heidegger honor “such-ness” as the ground for new thinking?

David Hume (Allan Ramsay, David Hume, 1711–1776); Martin Heidegger

Thomas Jockin and Johannes A. Niederhauser are brilliant, and to listen to these wonderful gentlemen discuss the critical differences between Aristotle and Heidegger is a treat. I highly suggest their conversation, which inspired this reflection connecting Heidegger to Hume (which ends suggesting Hegel might play a role too):

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In “Dialectical Ethics” by O.G. Rose, it is argued that Hume decoupled “is-ness” from “ought-ness” in order to connect “such-ness” and “ought-ness.” Hume did this because he was concerned about the tyranny of “outsiders” deciding what a given community or “common life” really “was” and deciding what that “common life” “ought” to do based on that outside perspective. By arguing that we cannot establish “ought-ness” based on “is-ness,” Hume is arguing that we can only determine what a thing, person, community, etc. “ought” to do from “within it,” as part of it and embedded in it.

For more on David Hume

If I decide what I “ought” to do with a pen based on using it, on touching it, on seeing how the ink appears on the paper — this is “such-ness.” “Is-ness” is when I say, “That is a pen, and therefore should be used for x, y, and z” without ever actually taking the particularity of the pen seriously. In this way, Hume is concerned with people ascribing to a “bad ontology” of “is-ness” (to allude to his language of “good philosophy vs bad philosophy”), which contributes to us not letting “communities be themselves to us,” for example, which contributes to tyranny and — worse yet — tyranny that believes morality is on its side because “is-ness implies ought.” When Hume deconstructs “is/ought,” he wants to replace it with “suchness/ought-ness.” Whenever Hume or his friend Smith discuss “habit” and “sentiment,” thinking of “suchness” is critical.

Daniel Zaruba’s masterful work on Nishitani is relevant here.

I wonder if something similar applies to Heidegger. He seems to deny “is-ness” for the sake of “such-ness,” and he wants us to stop thinking of “x as having the form of a pen,” per se, because then we decide “x should be used for writing” and miss out on the unique such-ness of x. We today don’t tend to let x “unveil itself” to us or speak to us as itself: instead, we decide what form x is “most like,” and then make x “match up” with the function of that form (regardless what “violence” this might entail). In this way, we use metaphysics to decide what technology should produce, and technology tends to produce replications of (our) forms. Thus, if we think x has “the form of a pen,” we submit x to a technology (or “technological thinking) that makes x “be and work as a pen.” And this is not necessarily bad, but gradually we can habituate ourselves to so quickly deciding that “x matches the form of a pen” that we stop letting x “speak to us” and tell us that it might have “something else to it” that we keep missing because of our metaphysical/technological thinking.

Though not discussed in this work, Walter Benjamin’s “aura” might be relevant (Photo: AKG-IMAGES/IMAGNO)

Technology produces “a table,” per se, which is relative to “the form of a table,” and so tries to make everything “like a form” (“is-ness”). But Heidegger wants us to produce “that table” (“such-ness”), per se, and he does not readily see how technology could accomplish this (“How could “mass production” make thousands of unique tables versus thousands of tables which are “practically” the same? Seems like a tall order…”). Only a craftsman could make “that table,” and today the hunger for designer goods might suggest that we are subconsciously realizing this distinction as a society. Hard to say…Heidegger seems to think that “teleological” thinking contributes to “mass production,” and though “mass production” has its benefits, it’s costing us something that can only be gained from “such-ness.” Also, if we are overly-habituated to “is-ness,” we may also be habituating ourselves to accepting tyranny…

Rain is not “caused” so much as it “unfolds” for Heidegger: he wants to remove the idea that there is an “is-ness” “over” rain that “makes it” do x or y. Yes, rain “tends” to do x and y, but perhaps it doesn’t “just” do x and y: perhaps there’s more to rain than we think (than our metaphysics makes room for). By moving the focus from “is-ness” to “such-ness,” perhaps Heidegger is “expanding possibilities,” and in that sense arguing we need an “open teleology” versus a “closed teleology” (that Heidegger seems to worry about in Aristotle). Heidegger wants rain to always have the possibility of surprising us, I think, and he seems to think “such-ness” makes more space for that possibility than “is-ness.” And, yes, I’m indeed suggesting that Heidegger has similar thoughts to Hume’s view on causality. Hume is concerned that we use “laws of causality” to cease paying attention to the world and things in it, because if we know “the laws” which the world follows, we don’t need to pay attention to “things.” In this way, we can gain “dominion over things” and cease having to “observe” them. We become tyrannical, for we “press down” on nature laws that nature has to follow and that nature has to keep following regardless what we do…

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If we think “rain is for x and y,” then we basically decide “rain isn’t for z,” and thus if rain is to be for z, we must add z (technologically). Rain in nature isn’t used for electricity, so if “rain is to be used for electricity,” we must add that possibility by inventing hydroelectric generators. Paradoxically, if we don’t observe “such-ness” and keep open the possibility of “rain adding c to itself,” then we’re still going to try to expand possibilities for rain, but we’ll be entirely in control. Thus, there’s a higher chance that we will treat rain violently and inappropriately, per se, and also that we’ll miss out on new “unfoldings” rain could be “for” that only rain itself could unveil to us. In other words, if we decide “rain is for x and y,” then we can turn off our eyes and ears and start designing hydroelectric engines for z, thus missing the possibility of rain “unveiling” how it can be “for” c too. This doesn’t mean hydroelectric engineers are necessarily bad, but it does mean that technology tends to make us “dominators” versus” “observers.”

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Some religions used to carry out rituals for animals before they ate or sacrificed them, honoring and “observing” the spirit of the animal despite killing it. In a sense, this is what I see Heidegger as arguing: he wants us to honor what we kill. Not all killing is murder, but perhaps the difference between “murder” and “killing” is “observation?” If our Technological Age is an age without observation, this would be a problem, as would be problematic any metaphysics which hurt “observation.”

Perhaps we could say that Heidegger wants to locate teleology “on the surface” versus “in the thing?” Perhaps Heidegger wants each individual thing to have an individual teleology that “reflects” universality but is not reducible to universals? I’m not sure, but it’s interesting to think of the difference between a teleology that is “on” versus “in,” a teleology “unfolding” versus “causing” in line with our ideas of causes…

Dialogue on how to live a dialectical/dialogical life

For the sake of helping “things speak to us,” Heidegger opposes teleological thinking, for to him teleology contributes to the growth of “technological thinking,” and thus metaphysics threatens our experience of Being (though we so often today combine “metaphysics” and “ontology,” problematically). Technology/metaphysics contributes to Being undergoing transformation into “being(s),” and this is ultimately the death of “such-ness.” If Heidegger is right about this and Hume right about “is-ness” causing tyrannical ethics, then we could say the loss of Being for “being(s),” like the loss of “such-ness” for “is-ness,” contributes to an Unethical Age, an age when ethics are in service of tyranny. In this way, I see the ethical projects of Hume and Heidegger as very similar, for both oppose “is-ness” (“bad and ‘unobservant’ philosophy”) in favor of “such-ness” (“good and “observant’ philosophy”).

But this is where the difficulty begins, for unless we are just going to stand around and let “such-ness unfold itself to us as itself,” we must eventually make judgments that y is x, that y should be used for z, that y would be more efficient as c, and so on. Basically, if we’re going to think and act upon that thinking, we will have to make judgments (which harkens to Aristotle and Aquinas), and that means we will have to “impede upon such-ness,” which would almost necessarily require the introduction of an “is-ness,” an “idea” of what “such-ness” means and is like. And I personally don’t think Rousseau was right about how great it would be if we were all Noble Savages…the narrative seems a little more complex…

Rousseau by Maurice Quentin de La Tour, 1753

The moment we act or judge x (a given example of experienced “such-ness”), it would seem we necessarily introduce an “is-ness” — and this is where the concerns of Mr. Jockin seem very relevant. Does Heidegger provide us a guide for how and when we should judge x (“such-ness”) and act on x in accordance with our judgment? I’m not sure — I don’t think it’s the case that Heidegger is against technology “in general,” just the ways technology has “started to do our thinking for us,” per se, an admonishment of the utmost importance.

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Is there a difference between using water to wash clothes and using water to create electricity? Does one honor the “such-ness” of water better than the other? How and by what standard? Does a house in the countryside honor the “such-ness” of nature better than a city? How and by what standard? Perhaps cities “honor” the life and needs of humans better than country-sides? Perhaps cities help something “come out of” humans that otherwise can’t, without which humans fail to be “fully human?” I’m not sure at all, but these all require “acts of judgment” which seem like they must inevitably introduce “is-ness.” For if I say “humans needs cities to be civilized,” then I must define what humans “are” in order to determine what constitutes “civil” relative to humans (“truth organizes values,” as The Conflict of Mind discusses), and it does not seem to me that the raw experience of “human such-ness” will ever “unveil to me” that humans are happier in cities (not that this is the case). Eventually, from experiences of “such-ness,” I can make an “informed judgment” that “humans are x, and therefore ought to do and be in y.” But this is the moment when I threaten “such-ness” with “is-ness” (but perhaps for the better — hard to say).

Perhaps the problem is teleology from “the top-down” versus “the bottom-up,” per se? I’m not sure if Heidegger “never” wants us to transition to a judgment about “such-ness”: it’s almost as if he thinks we can gain “something like teleology” from taking “such-ness” seriously. In other words, it’s almost like he thinks we can gain the benefits of metaphysics without the risks by making “such-ness” primary over “is-ness” (or at least increase the probability of getting the positives without the negatives). That’s what Hume thinks, and I might easily be reading Hume into Heidegger, but it seems to me like “Scottish thinking” is there in the mind of the great German.

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Perhaps we could say that Heidegger doesn’t want us to decide what we should do with a forest until we’ve enjoyed walks through it for a few years? After all those walks, of watching the sunlight break through the leaves across the dew, we might decide we don’t need the lumber so badly after all…But if ultimately we decide we do need the lumber, it will be a tragic choice (a “trade-off between competing goods,” as Nussbaum discusses), and thus a higher chance the lumber won’t be in service of “mere technological thinking.” Perhaps Heidegger doesn’t want us to infringe upon “such-ness” when it doesn’t feel tragic? If the infringement feels exciting, like progress, he wants us to walk away. We fall forward when we progress without loss.

In conclusion, in my view, we learn from Heidegger and Hume that we need a dialectic between “is-ness” and “such-ness,” and that the more “is-ness” is informed by “such-ness,” the better (and there’s basically no hope of this “dialectical balance” unless “is-ness” is determined from a place of deep connection with “such-ness”). Not all ideas of “is-ness” are equally informed by “such-ness,” and I think Heidegger is right that we are way too far on the side of “is-ness” these days. For me, taking Heidegger and Hume seriously, I think we need “a dialectic between thinking and perceiving,” as discussed with Daniel Zaurba before. I think Hegel provides a good guide for this, making it possible to “observe” both Aristotle and Heidegger, but that’s a long story about “Absolute Knowing,” though Dr. Cadell Last has already done much of the work for us.

Photo by Kazuend

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For more by Thomas Jockin, visit here, and Johannes A. Niederhauser’s work is not to be missed. For more by Rose, please visit O.G. Rose.com. Also, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow us on Instagram and Facebook.

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